CARLSBAD, Calif. • Once he had snapped off a few opening one-liners about Toronto’s “blue flu,” Minnesota fans going to games where “only one of the Twins show up,” and Marlins crowds putting “the MIA to Miami,” superagent Scott Boras got to the point in his program when, with a ringmaster’s grin, he introduced the main attraction.
“Certainly Harper’s bazaar has begun,” he said.
In a 65-minute chat with members of the media at baseball’s general manager meetings, Boras outlined his concerns about the game’s tanking culture and its miserly, uncompetitive teams. He also offered the first public glimpses of the case he’s making for his client, former MVP Bryce Harper, as interested teams line up for what is expected to end with the largest free-agent contract in baseball history. At least some teams are spending.
The Cardinals’ front office has heard at least part of Boras’ presentation on Harper after meeting with the agent this week, in person, at the resort hosting the meetings. Other discussions are inevitable. The Cardinals have interest in multiple Boras clients, and they were described Wednesday by someone familiar with those talks as “a factor” in the courtship of the young slugger, in this Harper’s bazaar. The 26-year-old outfielder is intrigued by overtures from the Cardinals, multiple sources confirmed, and another source referred to the Cardinals as “in a better position than maybe they realize.”
Boras has referred repeatedly to Harper as a “generational talent,” and when he elaborated Wednesday his description was as much GQ, Forbes and Popular Mechanics as it was the title he borrowed, Harper’s Bazaar.
“It’s fashionable. It’s historical. It’s elite. Global, certainly,” Boras said. “And it has inspirations that deal with great shoes and great hair. When you’re in a category of talent and player in the game that rarely, rarely is there, you’re talking about a process that I think is very unconventional. You’re dealing with a generational player, and what is a generational player? He holds the quality of elite performance. He’s … available for the greatest numbers of elite years for performance.
“You’ve seen an owner’s dream happen before you,” Boras concluded. “For an owner to know that the rocket ship of economic opportunity is just blasting off — because the player is just entering the prime of his career.”
The cover charge to enter the bidding on the “rocket ship” is not clear, though what it’s not was revealed Wednesday. The Washington Post reported that the Nationals presented Harper a 10-year, $300 million offer before their exclusive negotiating rights lapsed with their free agent. The deal did not include any opt-outs or a no-trade clause.
The Washington Post made the point that it’s the largest contract ever offered a free agent in any of the continent’s four major sports. Harper’s side declined and reached open market.
The decade-long length of the contract is coveted by Harper, and it’s long been believed that his side would aim to eclipse the $325 million value of Giancarlo Stanton’s record deal. Stanton was not a free agent, so that contract happened in single-team negotiations. Zack Greinke has the highest annual average value in history at $34 million per year, and it’s reasonable to expect Harper – younger than Greinke, and an everyday player – to seek a deal that surpasses that record as well.
“He brings a dynamic to the clubhouse that few people can bring,” Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He was a kid who played with his hair on fire the first three or four years of his career. What we didn’t realize was this guy has a huge baseball IQ. He wants to be great. We knew he was good. He wanted to be great. He wants to be the best. … He’s a young MVP, youngest All-Star ever. He’s got a shelf full of awards that show the type of player he is. He (was) a grizzled veteran at 25 years old that’s done a lot in the game already. He’s just scratching the surface.”
The Cardinals, by rule, do not discuss specific free agents or their pursuits. When it comes to a transcendent player like Harper, they do not have any reluctance to offer opt-out clauses in contracts — they did before with Jason Heyward — and they routinely provide players no-trade clauses. In their pursuit of Stanton a year ago via trade, they proved willing to take on a salary greater than $255 million and a cost greater than $300 million.
Three times in the past three offseasons, the Cardinals have made bids on players that would have cost them close to $200 million or more. They landed none.
“I don’t think the fact that we haven’t gotten some big deals done changes whether we were able to offer another big deal going forward,” general manager Michael Girsch said. “Look, all of these markets for elite players have more than one team chasing them, and only one team gets them. That doesn’t affect our level of interest in doing that where we see an opportunity that makes sense for us.”
Girsch did not need an analogy when making his list.
“We want the best hitter we can get who fits in with our team,” he said.
Boras said that he intends to meet with any team that expresses interest in Harper and every team Harper points him toward. Asked Wednesday if Harper had a preference for the size of city, location of city, or site of spring training, Boras insisted his client is open to all things. He specifically remarked how Harper enjoyed San Francisco — the Giants are a likely suitor — and the crowds that gather at AT&T Park. He’d say a similar thing about the Cardinals, their history, and crowds that fill Busch Stadium. Boras, personally, has a fondness for the Cardinals franchise that goes deeper than any sales pitch, and he refers to the late George Kissell, a beloved Cardinals coach, as a mentor. After several high-profile players have rejected the Cardinals’ offers, there are reasons to believe Harper would entertain one.
As he hopscotched from zinger to answers Wednesday, Boras hinted at the numbers he’s presenting teams about Harper. He contends Harper will increase franchise value, especially for teams that own their own networks or a share of their rights holders, as the Cardinals do. He suggested talent is better than “Andy and Mayberry reruns.” He notes how players at Harper’s age rarely hit the open market, and often zoom toward Cooperstown with their peak-year performance. Since 2005, there have been four 1.100 OPS seasons in baseball.
Albert Pujols has three.
Harper has the other one, in 2015.
Asked after his meeting with the press if a major talent needs a major market to maximize his “rocket ship” of possibilities, Boras paused. Major players make markets major.
“Because you hold an asset that no one else has when you have a generational player,” Boras said. “We saw Ken Griffey Jr. go to Seattle and make Seattle something very different than it was. I think the point is you can have oil wells in Midland, Texas, and it’s still an oil well.”
'WILLING AND ABLE' TO SIGN HARPER AND DONALDSON?
QUESTION: Am I reading your article correctly ("Cardinals are in the market for elite talent"): The Cards are going to be willing and able to offer contracts to both Harper and Donaldson?
GOOLD: Willing? That's the question that remains to be answered by the team. Able, yes. The Cardinals have money to spend. They are positioned as well as any team in this market. No question. It's not a question of if they they have money to spend. It's always going to be a question on whether they want to spend that money. That's where their discipline meets the need.
Follow-up: Are the Cubs serious contenders for Bryce? Seems like they have a luxury tax/Kris Bryant issue standing in their way.
GOOLD: Well, I happen to be sitting beside two Cubs beat writers. Let me ask them.
Cubs beat writer No. 1: "Zero chance. Not enough in the budget thanks to Heyward, Darvish, Lester, Chatwood, Morrow."
Cubs beat writer No. 2: "I will put it at 1 percent, at most, if they can get rid of one of the bigger contracts. It's a rabbit-out-of-the-hat move."
Follow-up: Heard anything on if St Louis is of interest for Harper, or if he prefers a different place altogether? I keep reading that but there's no proof on it.
GOOLD: I have been told, multiple times, that the Cardinals have reason to stay in the conversations, and that no door like that has been shut. We'll see. Harper obviously has his preferences -- every player does -- but it's the best fit of the best offers. That's how free agency works.
GOOLD'S TURN: HARPER WORTH PURSUING?
QUESTION: Both Bens (Hochman and Frederickson) are all in, Gordo is not. What are your thoughts on Bryce Harper?
GOOLD: He is a talent that is rarely available on the free-agent market. With one move the Cardinals will have answered so many of their questions -- and made a statement on what they're going to look like for years to come. They will have won a bidding war. They will have done so on a player that has a predictable career arc, durability, and could perform for them well into his 30s.
They were so intrigued by Heyward's age -- well, here's a player who is younger, an elite hitter, and a franchise face, and they have need for all three. He's the hat trick of their wishes, and they are financially positioned to make a significant move this winter, and the market is going to lean in their direction.
Longtime chatters will remember that I brought up a while back how a source told me that the market was going to create a way for the Cardinals to bid on Bryce Harper and make a compelling offer. There has been nothing to disprove that report so far, and indeed that has only been great substantiation. Scott Boras told the Chicago Sun-Times that the derby for Harper right now is "not a regatta. This is a submarine race. Nobody wants anyone to know they are in it." Well, we know the Cardinals are going to be in it -- want to be in it.
BUT ... WHAT ABOUT THE HIGH PRICE FOR BRYCE?
QUESTION: I thought I was "all in" hoping the Cards would go for Harper. I also thought that meant 10 years and $330-350 million. MLBtraderumors has Harper getting 14 years and over 400 million. Do you see that as being realistic?
GOOLD: That seems realistic. Follow the AAV, everyone. Greinke hit the open market and received a six-year, $206 million deal, and he was in his 30s. That's a $34ish-million annual average value (AAV). Start doing the math from there. Is Harper the same player as Greinke, so why would he get the same AAV? Is he the same age as Greinke, then why would he get the same length of contract? The AAV for these deals is rising, and with the opt-outs you're going to see some creative distribution of salary, but the truths remain for contracts like these:
• AAV for the production of the player.
• Length for the age.
Start from there and do the math.
UPDATE ON THE BIDDING FOR DONALDSON
QUESTION: Do you have a feel for how the bidding will go for Josh Donaldson? Did he show enough at the end of the year to get multiple years?
GOOLD: Two years seems realistic. What I am eager to see is the timing. So, Donaldson is represented by the same agent as Machado. I want to know what that means for the market and the timing. Do negotiations for Machado give the agent a sense of who wants a third baseman, and does he then wait for Machado to come off the board and then pit Donaldson vs. Moustakas to the teams that now have one fewer third baseman/infielder to choose from. That would be a good way to play it because you get info on who needs a third baseman and then you enter the market with one less option on the board. That could slow-play Donaldson and mean patience plays a part in the dealing, too. We'll see.
VALUING 'QUANTITY OF TALENT' OVER 'ONE SUPER TALENT'
QUESTION: You have mentioned in previous chats that there is a scenario where quantity of talent (Corbin, Pollock, et al), may be more important than securing one super talent. Do you still feel that the dollars spent could produce more in that fashion?
GOOLD: My point was that the Cardinals could do that quantity of talent and actually pivot to a run-prevention like team. A.J. Pollock (above) was definitely brought up. Count me in the group that sees Dallas Keuchel as maybe the better buy than Patrick Corbin will be based on the return. Corbin is going to get a lot of Chatwood-like attention and there's going to be a lot of money spent on spin rate, for sure.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias would factor into that kind of move as well, or a shift to 3B Mike Moustakas. There are ways to improve a team by one major move or by a series of moves or by both. Again, that's why this market is so fascinating. It's the Target of offseasons. Something for everyone.
FORGET ABOUT AN ARENADO TRADE?
QUESTION: Even if the Rockies decided to dangle Nolan Arenado, the cost in talent for him will surely be too high for one year of control. If the Cards can find a third baseman with 2 years of control, or sign one to a two-year deal, would that be enough to bridge the gap for the 3Bs in the Cards' pipeline?
GOOLD: I have yet to see a reason why Colorado would be motivated to trade Arenado, even with his wowzer arbitration-fueled salary coming. It doesn't make sense for where the Rockies are at this point -- unless, I guess, they go full-tank mode. That doesn't make much sense for them.
The Cardinals could do well to have a two-year bridge, sure. But that's a big bet on the future of the position. The Cardinals have three top-end third base prospects, for sure. They have had more than that in the outfield. Odds have produced -- how many impacts in the majors? Are they one-for-three in outfield impact? Are they one-for-three in pitchers who have had a big impact as top-end prospects? To me, one-for-three is still a big bet.
They'll want to keep flexible, obviously -- because either DeJong moves to third or one of the other prospects arrives and is exactly like the Cardinals believe he'll be. But if they have a chance to get better for 2019 and 2020 and 2021 and push that arrival back a year, or get some insurance in case the arrival of the prospect won't happen in two years or won't be the prospect imagined -- that seems like a better play to me.
CARDINALS SHOPPING JOSE MARTINEZ?
QUESTION: How do the Cardinals value Jose Martinez? Everything about him screams he is perfect for the Cardinals (strong bat and awesome dude), but that defense is hard to get over. Do they value him enough to see him improve, or is he destined for a trade with an AL team?
GOOLD: The Cardinals value Jose Martinez as a hitter who is a fit for their team off the bench -- and they recognize that may not be the best way to maximize his career or his value to them.
They will look for a trade, and they are looking for a trade match at this point because it is one way to clear another spot on the 40-man roster to protect a prospect from the Rule 5 draft. That is something in the air here at GM meetings -- what to do with Jose Martinez and what takers are out there.
Follow-up: Twins could be a great fir for Jose Martinez -- they got bad DH production last year, Joe Mauer may retire, and they also need pitching. Taylor Rogers is a killer lefty bullpen arm. J. Martinez for Rogers? J. Martinez and Luke Weaver for Rogers and a prospect?
GOOLD: Jose Martinez and the Twins are a match, for sure. Also Tampa Bay is a conversation spot for a move with Martinez. What such a move would bring the Cardinals back in return I haven't stapled down -- and don't feel comfortable speculating at this point. This much is clear: The Cardinals would look to move Martinez in a deal for a reliever that could help.
DOES CARSON KELLY STAY OR GO?
QUESTION: With Francisco Pena declining the outright to Memphis after not being claimed on outright waivers, can we count on Carson Kelly becoming Yadi's backup? Or will the Cards go get a backup catcher off the market or via trade and instead use Kelly in a trade package?
GOOLD: The Cardinals have stated, clearly, their intention to have Carson Kelly as the backup going into 2019. Those were the words that Mozeliak used at the end-of-year press conference. They believe he has done all he needs to do at Memphis; I believe that was the phrase.
The Cardinals can yet sign Pena and have him come back without any promises of a role -- but a chance. And they can yet use Kelly as part of a trade. Those things are both possible. But as they reach Nov. 5, their intention is to have Kelly be Molina's backup.
Follow-up: Which Cardinal player or players will other GMs be asking Mo and Girsch about this week?
GOOLD: Jose Martinez, Carson Kelly, Jedd Gyorko, and young pitchers galore.
WHY DONALDSON NOW?
QUESTION: You brought up the fact that the Cardinals are known to have had interest in Donaldson in the past. Yet, when they had an opportunity to grab him for a trial run last August, they passed. He was a gamble then at roughly $4 million, but now becomes a $40-50 million, multi-year gamble. Why is the interest still there?
GOOLD: Good question. Two primary reasons:
• He’s removed from injury, and the Cardinals have a chance to have him play more, and he’s being signed for 2019 with the idea his health will advance by spring.
• He’s a free agent, so the Cardinals can set the terms of engagement and not have to offer players to take on another team’s contract.
WHAT'S THE APPEAL OF MICHAEL BRANTLEY?
QUESTION: We've seen/heard that the Cardinals might be interested in OF Michael Brantley. Thoughts on that if they miss on Harper?
GOOLD: So Brantley has come up by connecting the dots that the Cardinals have discussed. Possible outfield search. Need of a lefthanded bat. Coming off a good year. He's in his low 30s, so a player who wouldn't take the year commitment of the other free agent.
I spoke to Brantley at the All-Star break and asked him for his views about St. Louis and how the Cardinals could sell themselves to free agent. He was reluctant, as you can imagine, to say too much about free agency -- was in the midst of the season with Cleveland, of course -- but said he couldn't think of a reason to close off conversations with any team. He in spoke in general terms. Saw some appeal of NL; saw appeal of DH in AL. Not really a commitment either way. So, it's the same with him that it is with all free agents: Where's the best offer?
I see the appeal of Brantley, but there's a real question about certainty and whether the overlap is worth the effort. Is he the guarantee, or just another attempt for the help needed?
HOW IS ALEX REYES PROGRESSING?
QUESTION: Any updates on Alex Reyes? Maybe this is difficult to predict on Nov. 5, but is he on target to be at 100 percent come spring training?
GOOLD: That's his timetable, yes. He should be physically 100 percent by the start of spring training, and if the Cardinals have him on a slower program than the other pitchers it's because of caution, not rehab. It could also be out of need and role when opening the season.
Remember, he could start that year as part of Memphis' rotation.
DEALING FLAHERTY OR C. MARTINEZ?
QUESTION: If a major trade would take place involving the Cardinals, I'd anticipate either Jack Flaherty or Carlos Martinez as the major chips in the transaction. Which one would be dealt? Is Flaherty a potential No. 1 starter?
GOOLD: The Cardinals have no interest in trading Jack Flaherty. They see him as the next ace. They see him as the future front man for the rotation. They have every reason to buy into that -- and other teams asking about him only fortifies that position.
I'm not so sure that a "major" trade would be built around Carlos Martinez as the centerpiece. A good trade, for sure. But you have to remember that he has a contract that pays him solid coin. Team-friendly coin for sure. But he's not a guy making the minimum or close to it for the next three years. Younger pitchers will be.
CHANCES OF OZUNA BEING RE-SIGNED?
QUESTION: If Ozuna's numbers next year look similar to this past year, is it safe to say Cards won't be re-signing him?
GOOLD: If Ozuna's number are double what he had last year, you could say the same thing. If they are the same as this past year, you could say the same thing. And so on and so on and so on. There are many things that could happen in the next 12 months that would mean they don't re-sign Ozuna, and not the least of which is the outfielder they do or don't get this winter. That's probably more important than Ozuna's production in the coming season.
AND WHAT ABOUT CARP WHEN HIS DEAL IS UP?
QUESTION: Do you see the Cardinals re-signing Carpenter after his contract runs out? If not, wouldn't that also underscore the need to get a lefthanded, middle-of-the-order bat?
GOOLD: It does definitely underscore the need for another bat. I bring up this curious window the Cardinals have created for themselves. The Cardinals refute my view of it, suggest I'm off on how it looks. I think the contracts speak, and few exist beyond 2020. One person's flexibility is another person's window. Whether Carpenter re-signs or not with the team doesn't change the need, and whether he re-signs or not will be based on his performance and what he's willing to do to stay, a la Wainwright, et al.
VOTE NO ON HARPER, MACHADO, DONALDSON
COMMENT: Some Cardinals fans think Harper or Machado or Donaldson will push the Cardinals to the top, but all these players are desirable for their offensive talent. Forget those three and use the money saved to sign a free agent like Lorenzo Cain or Christian Yelich. Is there any FA available this offseason like Cain or Yelich, one who is a more all-around type who can play defense and run the bases instead of a power-hitting type like the "Big Three"?
GOOLD: You and I have different views of Harper, clearly. Stash him in LF at some point soon and watch him win a Gold Glove there. Also, Machado is an elite third baseman. If he plays there, then you’re talking about a top 1 percent player, whether he’s Johnny Hustle on the bases or not. Look no further than the contracts they’ll get. Data is the rage. And the market right now will pay both of those players far more than Cain got as a free agent just a year ago.
You want a player like Yelich? Hard to find one as a free agent. David Dahl (above) will be for Colorado. He will be Yelich in 2019. A player like Cain? A.J. Pollock could have a similar impact on a team. Different player, but I could see that impact.
WORKING WITH SNAKES?
QUESTION: What would it take to get David Peralta (above left) from the "Snakes"? He's lefthanded and had similar numbers to Harper this year. Stays off the DL and would be considerably cheaper.
GOOLD: Eager to see what happens here with the Diamondbacks. If Paul Goldschmidt is in play then it would make sense that everyone on the team is in play and Arizona is tearing the team down to its desert level. Dry. Parched. Starting over. Peralta would be of interest at that point -- bring back the one-time Cardinals pitching prospect as the new outfielder. Goldschmidt is the better get for the Cardinals, obviously.
Right now, as of today, the free-agent market is defined and the headliners are obvious. In the coming weeks there will be a greater sense of the trade market and what Arizona really intends to do. If Goldschmidt hits the market, you can bet the Cardinals will stay in line for that conversation
WHAT THE CARDINALS NEED MOST
QUESTION: I really appreciate how the Cardinals were able to keep their young talent and cultivate that growth around a wonderful core of Pujols, Yadi, Rolen, Edmonds, Carp, and Waino. They don't have as strong of a core now. They have great supporting pieces but maybe they're missing just two core players in their prime? It's also understand they can't just draft the best player for the next 10 years, but they do a great job growing the talent they do have. How can they get that prime talent to complement all their assets?
GOOLD: This is the Cardinals in a nutshell. They have some strong complementary players. They have an exceptional hitter in Matt Carpenter. They have an upside talent in Ozuna. They have a budding impact hitter in DeJong (above). They have an elite glove in Wong. They do not yet have that tent-pole hitter. The one that raises the entire big top. A year ago, they set out to find that person. Ozuna has that upside. He didn't have health, and maybe he'll never have a year like he had in 2017, just like Yelich has a lot of talent and is a rising player and may never have a year like he just had in 2018.
Either way, the Cardinals are missing that kind of hitter that brings the whole lineup together and galvanizes the group around them. This market offers that chance. That's why you see so many of us writing about it.
DEALING WITH STL'S FRONT OFFICE
QUESTION: You said the Cardinals and Scott Boras are on good footing. Are there any agents/have there ever been any that they are not on good footing with? I think a lot of people would suggest Dan Lozano, but two weeks after Pujols signed with LAA, the Cards signed another Lozano client.
GOOLD: Carlos Beltran was that other client. Cardinals have had some issues, some brushfires with some of the smaller agent groups, but nothing that lingered that I can recall. Dating back to Jocketty, this was one thing the Cardinals did well -- identify the working relationships with teams and with agents and go with those. Mozeliak had a lot of conversations with Boras as assistant GM and that helped foster a relationship that continues today. Girsch works with GMs he knows well, and there are agents that he's had good rapport with so they go that route.
For the most part, what I hear from the agents and the other teams is that the Cardinals like to win deals, they like to keep things real quiet with no comments, and they like to come out with a deal they can explain within their data-driven approach. That can get frustrating for some teams that think the Cardinals always have to make the smartest deals -- but it is never to a point where the frustration is rooted in unprofessional dealings.
ROLE WITH THE ROYALS FOR MATHENY?
QUESTION: What sort of advising would Mike Matheny be doing if he goes with the Royals?
GOOLD: Unsure. This has been something bandied about for awhile. I first wrote about it and heard about it when the Cardinals were in Kansas City, and the Royals had reached out to him. Matheny heard from three teams. One was the Royals. Another candidate was possibly the Giants, though I couldn't confirm that. The nature of the role was being discussed -- and is still being discussed. Would be front office. Would be catching, for sure. How that lines up with Matheny's wish to manage again and the Royals already having a manager is part of the discussion and, undoubtedly, the title, too.
Follow-up: How do we know only 3 teams reached out to Matheny? Could this advisory role with the Royals set him up nicely to take over if Yost doesn't return in 2020?
GOOLD: I reported that Matheny heard from three teams. It could be at least three teams. One of those teams was the KC Royals, and they've talked to him about an advisory role. What you're asking is exactly the kind of question they are asking themselves. Anything you know beyond that is not something I've written.
WHY WAS HOLLAND SO BAD HERE, SO GOOD IN DC?
QUESTION: What's the best explanation of why Holland was so bad with the Cardinals yet so much better for the Nationals?
GOOLD: Was just asked this same question in the lobby here at the GM meetings. It starts with lack of spring training. Then he was rushed to be ready. And it spiraled from there. He was not sharp when he was thrust into ninth innings. That’s my view.